Five Step Approach to Drive Digital Change in Planning and Building

Five step approach to drive digital change

A de-amalgamation and a strong desire to deliver the best possible experience for customers were the primary driving forces behind the digital transformation of the Livingstone Shire Council Planning and Building approvals process.

By taking a people first approach, Redman Solutions was able to help Livingstone Shire Council achieve the change their community expected whilst supporting their staff to seamlessly transition to new ways of working.

This Client Success Story was presented at the 2018 National Local Government Customer Service Network conference on 18 October 2018 in Brisbane, by Jade Reed, Senior Consultant at Redman Solutions and Alister Gill, Technology Officer at Livingstone Shire Council.

Bright Red Bar.png

Post de-amalgamation in January 2014, key personnel at Livingstone Shire Council began exploring options to deliver services across Council more efficiently. Successive customer surveys indicated a clear expectation and need for Council to present and operate within a digital platform.

Feedback from the community also supported Council becoming more environmentally conscientious and focus on reducing its carbon footprint and reliance of paper. Existing internal processes were paper-based, highly manual, and included a multitude of steps.

It was clear to the team that they had a responsibility to fix this while making it easy for the community to conduct business with Council online.

With Council’s Executive Leadership support, the Project Team embarked on a council wide digital transformation journey to elevate Council’s service delivery options into the twenty-first century as quickly as possible.

By the end of 2016 the team had successfully implemented a new electronic document and property management system. By January 2017 the team then turned their focus to designing Council’s suite of online Land Use applications.

Council knew what they wanted to achieve. They knew that they needed technology to help them achieve it, and they knew they were missing a few pieces of the puzzle to complete their desired solution. That’s when Council engaged Redman Solutions to help.

Looking back, it’s obvious that the success of this project was contingent on one key factor – people. The team at Livingstone Shire Council took a people first approach and Redman Solutions wholeheartedly supported this approach.

With their extensive experience working with hundreds of other councils to digitise planning approvals, Council knew Redman Solutions had specific expertise to help them bring this project to fruition.

Online Lodgement percentage 2.png
Bright Red Bar.png

Step One: Garner internal buy-in to support the change

Without doubt one of the greatest challenges and successes of this implementation was engaging team members within Council in a way that helped them embrace change and transition to a new way of working. Livingstone Shire Council has a high percentage of older people working at Council, some of whom have worked for decades using paper-based systems.

The implementation process was initially undertaken with key staff in the land use section. The team engaged with Officers in a way that would encourage staff to embrace the impending change and transition smoothly into a new more efficient way of doing business.

One Officer, a Building Inspector, was adamant that the Building Team “would never be able to work electronically”. As a leader and mentor within Council, the Project Team knew they needed to get this Inspector (and other key team influencers) on board if the project was going to have any chance of succeeding.

It was no surprise that the change was initially met with trepidation and fear! The transition to the new digital platform was a significant change for some and needed to be delivered in a way that kept resistance to a minimum.

They knew that they had to demonstrate (practically) how the change to digital would benefit customers and council colleagues alike. They also had to shift the focus from all the reasons why a digital process wouldn’t work to all the benefits that the change to digital would bring. The team achieved this by visibly and consistently offering support to staff to overcome short-term challenges.

With the help of a very patient and talented consultant from Redman Solutions, the team worked closely with the Inspector and others to discover where resistance was coming from. They took the time to be curious, listen, understand and then troubleshoot solutions for what wasn’t working.

For example, one of the challenges that the Inspector faced was that the screen on his tablet was too small and there was too much glare on the screen when out in the field. In short, the technology wasn’t fit for purpose. When Council provided him with a different device he loved it and could experience the benefits, advantages and efficiencies that the technology could deliver to him.

A few months later the team reported that it was like working with a different person. The Inspector had transformed into the “poster boy” for digital transformation at Council and has become instrumental in mentoring less experienced officers to transition to the digital way of working.

Step Two: Engage customers to help inform and design the change

During the early period of the digital transformation project a small group of stakeholders well known to Council including Planning Consultants, Private Certifiers and regular building/plumbing Applicants were identified as important to the success of the project.

The Project Team Leader, Jo McLennan, Executive Officer – Liveability and Wellbeing, strategically approached and engaged a core group of external customers to take part in this project. Not surprisingly the customers were keen as mustard to be part of the solution.

“When we began the digital assessment project we targeted our external customers up front. We asked them what they wanted to experience and then we did whatever we had to do to make the back-end deliver what the customer wanted on the front end,” Ms McLennan said.

The strength and positivity of existing relationships with the Stakeholder Group meant that Council could trust the feedback supplied.

They even engaged these stakeholders in the go-live process to work through the bugs and kinks and make sure the system delivered exactly what they needed.

One of the Stakeholders, a local swimming pool installer, traditionally lodged hard copy applications over the counter or scanned and emailed her applications into Council. She would then wait to be contacted by Council to make payment which added extra time delay to the overall process.

Now, she can lodge and pay her applications all from the convenience of her home office at a time that suits her. She has regularly communicated her delight with whole process, saying that it is so much more efficient for both her and Council.

Bright Red Bar.png

Step Three: Communicate and educate to create change

To build a digital assessment platform that enables customers to enquire, lodge, track and pay for their planning applications online, Council needed to procure, configure and deploy a number of different software solutions. More importantly, those different software solutions needed to all talk to each other and deliver a seamless experience for both the internal and external users of the system.

Mobile devices were purchased and configured to suit individual officers needs and training was delivered as required to ensure assessing officers were competent and confident moving forward.

As each stage went live, multiple team visits and team training were scheduled and undertaken to educate Officers across Council. Educational flyers were produced and shared via bulk mail outs to enlighten the community around the progress of project.

Updates provided at team meetings, the weekly staff bulletin and inter department visits were scheduled. Revised work instructions were produced and uploaded to Council’s intranet to facilitate a smooth transition to the digital platform for staff, organisation wide.

Frontline Customer Support Officers (CSOs) were influential during the early period of the transformation by educating the public and guiding customers to take a leap of faith and utilise the digital framework. Frequently, the CSOs would step customers through the lodgement process screen by screen. Messages on hold were updated informing customers waiting on hold about the new efficient way to do business with Council.

Step Four: Recognise and celebrate the change

Livingstone Shire has become more efficient since the transformation of their digital planning and building approvals process. Processing delays have been reduced and customers are growing in confidence to do business with Council more frequently using online services.  

The number of land use applications lodged online increased by 227% during the twelve months following go live in May 2017.

The number of land use applications lodged online increased by 227% during the twelve months following go live in May 2017.

Council Officers are now super competent with the new process and have stated how satisfying their roles are now based on the speed and efficiency that the new way or working gives them.

Regular Private Certifiers have gone from scanning and emailing all their applications to lodging ALL applications online now – which makes it faster for them and faster for Council!

Step Five: Identify and invest in the next opportunity for change

Council is now looking to expand the digital transformation project to other areas of Council including animal registrations, health licencing for public health, and local laws.

The other focus will be to keep promoting the “do business with council online” message to the community. There are still people in the community that don’t realise they can access services online so Council plans to continue to educate and encourage the community to engage with Council online and improve their overall experience of working with Council.

Emily Szilveszter, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Livingstone Shire Council has observed an important shift in how customers engage with Council following the successful implementation of this project.

“People just want to get the result they want with a minimum of fuss. Our customers expect to be able to do business with Council in the way, and at the time of day, that is most convenient to them. This project is a great example of how Council is delivering that for our community,” Ms Szilveszter said.